Despite significant progress in regional cooperation among Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar, very little is on the ground, as bureaucrats find hindrances in implementing the agreements.
The academics and diplomats at a regional seminar "Bangladesh's Engagement with India and Myanmar" on Sunday opined that despite the limitations, the ball should roll among the three countries.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali at the seminar said, because of its "unique" geographical location, Bangladesh was poised to play its "natural role" as a bridge between South Asia and South East Asia.
The speakers explained that Myanmar was once a vibrant trading centre, rich cultural heritage and migration from Bengal (now Bangladesh) and Myanmar occurred during the pre-colonial era of the British Raj.
After the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, everything stopped including trade, shipping and relationship, a speaker said.
Dhaka University and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies (MAKAIAS) have jointly organised the conference with the support of a Bangladesh-based Research and Development Collection, and the India-Bangladesh Foundation.
Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Pankaj Saran, Myanmar Ambassador Myo Myint Than, and MAKAIAS director Dr Sreeradha Datta spoke at the inauguration chaired by the DU's vice-chancellor Prof AAMS Arefeen Siddique.
Foreign Minister Mahmood Ali at the inaugural session said that strengthening relations with neighbours is the "priority" of Bangladesh's foreign policy and stressed that no country can prosper in isolation.
"It is our firm commitment to set an example of good neighbourliness in the region, create a legacy for our posterity, and improve the lives for the millions of our people," the foreign minister.
He urged the countries of the region, facing common developmental challenges to work together to fight common enemies such as inequality, deprivation and poverty.
The meet was also addressed , among others, by former Indian Foreign Secretary Krishnan Srinivasan, President of Bangladesh History Congress Prof Muntassir Mamoon, and India's Deputy High Commissioner in Dhaka Sandeep Chakraborty, Indian High Commissioner to Yangon Gautam Mukhopadhaya, Prof Om Prakash Mishra of Jadavpur University, Khin Zaw Win a think tank of Myanmar , Dr. Aksadul Alam of Dhaka University and Sayantani Sen Mazumder of MAKAIAS.
Conference coordinator Prof Mesbah Kamal said the two-day symposium would discuss a whole range of relations with a special emphasis on trade and connectivity, maritime boundary, sub-regional cooperation, and tourism and culture.
"Bangladesh's relationship with the countries in the region, particularly its immediate neighbours, is characterized by intensive engagements".
Though Bangladesh's engagement with India was widespread, the Rohingya refugee issue still remained a major stumbling block in its relations with Myanmar.
The foreign minister, however, did not mention any irritant with Myanmar. He said the relations with Myanmar had also seen a "fresh start" after 2009, when Hasina came to power.
"Myanmar is a gateway to connect South Asia with the ASEAN countries in the Southeast and East Asia. Therefore, it is imperative for Bangladesh and Myanmar to continue to maintain a peaceful and congenial relationship for enhancing regional cooperation, trade and investment that will ultimately benefit the two peoples," he said.
"The power and energy sector cooperation has opened a new window of opportunity for strengthening of bilateral relations," he said.
Another important area of cooperation, he said, was the proposed Asian Highway Network connecting Kunming to Kolkata via Coxs Bazar, Chittagong, Comilla and Jessore.
"Bangladesh, India and Myanmar are not only friends and neighbours but also development partners," he said.
Indian High Commissioner Pankaj Saran said the maritime boundary settlement has opened "fresh opportunity of cooperation" in many areas including the energy sector.
"It's easy to find issues that divide us, but it is more difficult to find issues of cooperation that unite us", he said.
He said the region would become a better place only if the uniting factors are identified. "This is a challenge that we must win," he said.
Myanmar ambassador also said that maritime dispute settlement opened "massive opportunities" of cooperation among the three littorals.
He said collaboration and cooperation under various mechanisms including the BIMSTEC were the "need of the hour".
Dhaka University vice-chancellor Prof AAMS Arefeen Siddique also emphasised working together, saying the three countries had interlinked destinies.
Prof Muntassir Mamoon, however, said that the irritants must be addressed to take the relationships forward.